"Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors."
--The Book of Common Prayer
It was the cruelty of their fellow students that drove several young men to take their own lives last year rather than endure the bullying and harassment they received for their actual or perceived sexual orientation. Billy Lucas, 15; Seth Walsh, 13; Asher Brown, 13; and Tyler Clementi, 18 are only a few of the victims of bullying and harassment whose deaths by suicide have made headlines. It is because of the tragic deaths of these youth and others like them that we have learned of their suffering and desperation and the failure of schools and teachers to protect them. Countless other children and teenagers suffer at the hands of bullies without help or hope and often in silence.
According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Networkâs (GLSEN) 2009 National School Climate Survey, approximately 89 percent of students heard "gay" used in a negative way. About 61 percent of students felt unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation and about 40 percent felt unsafe because of how they expressed their gender. Even more frightening, approximately 85% of students were verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation. About 40 percent of LGBT students were physically harassed at school because their sexual orientation, and nearly 27% because of their gender expression.
We are called to speak out against the cruelty perpetrated against vulnerable students in schools that are unaware of their suffering or unwilling to act decisively to put an end to such suffering. We will take this opportunity to remember those who took their own lives to escape the agony of bullying by asking policymakers and schools administrators to focus on protecting our children in school.
To address such bullying and harassment, Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) and Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) have introduced the Safe Schools Improvement Act (H.R. 1648/S. 506,) which would amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to encourage schools to develop programs that address bullying. In addition, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) and Senator Al Franken (D-MN) have introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 998/S.555,) which would prohibit discriminatory harassment in federally funded educational programs.
The Safe Schools Improvement Act (H.R. 1648/S. 506)
The Safe Schools Improvement Act would require states to use grants for safe and drug-free schools to collect and report information on the incidence of bullying and harassment and require local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools to use subgrants to prevent and respond to incidents of bullying and harassment. Further, the legislation would require schools to notify parents and students annually of conduct prohibited in their school discipline policies, which now must include bullying and harassment; and establish grievance procedures for students and parents to register complaints regarding such conduct.
The Safe Schools Improvement Act has been endorsed by the American Association of School Administrators, American Federation of Teachers, American School Health Association, National Association of School Psychologists, National Education Association, and the National Parent Teacher Association.
The Student Non-Discrimination Act (H.R. 998/S.555)
The Student Non-Discrimination Act would forbid any educational program receiving federal funds from discriminating against a student on the basis of their sexuality or the sexuality of their associates. The Act includes harassment as a form of discrimination, requiring school officials not discriminate indirectly by overlooking the harassment of gay students by other students. The Act gives the appropriate federal agencies the power to cut funds from states not compliant with these provisions.
The Student Non-Discrimination Act has been endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association, American School Counselors Association, National Association of School Psychologists, National Association of School Safety and Law Enforcement Officials, National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the School Social Work Association of America.